Austin Tilghman went from two-sport star in high school whose value transcended his impact on court for Monmouth over four-year career, as did fellow senior Zac Tillman. (Photo by Monmouth University Athletics)
ALBANY, NY -- Sometimes, the bond between player and coach goes far beyond the game, especially when the relationship is forged through common goals.
Several years ago, Steve Masiello spoke of seniors Emmy Andujar, Shane Richards and RaShawn Stores as if they were his own children, highlighting how the trio committed to him sight unseen at Manhattan, and in the coach's own words, "believed in me when no one else did."
King Rice, a counterpart and close friend of Masiello's, has experienced similar transcendent relationships during his seven years on the bench at Monmouth, particularly last season after Justin Robinson departed West Long Branch as the Hawks' all-time leading scorer. This year, the reverence between Rice, and seniors Austin Tilghman and Zac Tillman; as well as walk-on Dan Pillari, may have topped that.
"That's five years' worth of memories, that's a broad question," said Tillman, who redshirted last season to help cultivate Monmouth's depth, after the Hawks saw a 15-point lead slip away Thursday in a Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference tournament matchup against Saint Peter's. "I remember Coach Rice being just a great role model to have, no matter where our record was. I'm happy I came here. To come to Monmouth, I feel like I learned a lot from a basketball standpoint and just being a man. That stuff, you don't forget."
"For me, most of the stuff is just off the court," Tilghman added, a two-sport prospect coming out of high school that many assumed would choose football over basketball. But the hardwood won out over the gridiron, and the Delaware native became a Swiss Army knife of sorts for Monmouth, backing up Robinson at the point guard spot while simultaneously learning and defending multiple positions, all the while waiting for his time to come, which it finally did as a senior this season. "Honestly, basketball is what we'll stop doing at some point. Most of the lessons Coach Rice taught us are off-the-court things that I'll take and I'll pass to my kids. A lot of stuff I learned over the past four years has helped me off the court, and that's a tribute to King Rice, Coach (Rick) Callahan, all the guys that were here for the four years, and I just want to thank them for all that."
"I have all kinds of memories with these guys," an emotional Rice reflected, offering amusing and poignant anecdotes. "When Zac got here, his mom dropped him off. I took a chance that day, and I took all his cookies, cakes, donuts -- all of it -- right in front of his parents, and I gave it to Brian Reese, one of my assistants. I did the same thing with Chris Brady, and 30 days later, I gave him a walking program that he's the only one still standing doing it. My staff has started doing the walking program, they always quit. Zac always did it every single day -- twice a day -- and he lost 30 pounds his first 30 days at school. And from that day forward, I knew we had a great young man in our program."
"Austin -- his AAU program, WE R1 -- they were telling me how good he was, and I thought Austin was going to play football," Rice said of Tilghman. "You see how he's built. I just thought he would play football, and they kept telling me he was going to play basketball. But because Sam Ferry (Rice's former assistant coach) was close to his family and they liked what we were doing, Austin decided to come. He's come a long, long way, and Austin is a winner. He's been a winner every day that I've watched him as a kid, and he's been a winner in our program. It goes much deeper than wins and losses. He was raised by a great family. I'm just grateful to these young men for choosing our program and giving us everything they had over the last five and four years."